A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Author Archive

Ready Players

I must have read Ready Player One about three or four times before getting the audiobook. That’s been listened to at least a dozen times while working or driving over the last few years. I finished Ready Player Two on Saturday and I’m already listening to the audiobook. I’m probably about two-thirds of the way through it.

After a fashion, parts of RPO really started to irritate me. Like how Wade brags about his gunter chops and how he’s watched Family Ties in its entirety five times or how he’s a subject matter expert on classic coin-op games. Or how he idolized and acted really stupid toward Art3mis and pushed things way too far with her and eventually became that emo teen we all roll our eyes at. I can see similar bits in RPT even as I’m flipping through the book or listening to it for the first time.

I recognize that Wade is an unreliable narrator. The whole book (series now I guess) is from his flawed perspective. He worships this game developer who has his own problems as revealed to us in the second book, but even before those issues are displayed, Wade himself is a painfully stereotypical teenager (sans parents to argue with, which I’m sure is part of the problem) and I noticed some of my own lame-ass behaviors in the book as I read it. I’m sure that’s part of what has irritated me with Wade: I was a lot like him growing up and probably still am to some small extent.

See, I’ve always been a bit of a know-it-all. Okay, a lot of a know-it-all. I love knowing things and sharing that knowledge with anyone and everyone. My approach (which I’ve made significant strides toward squashing) has often been to assume that everyone I talk to knows nothing about the subject I’m about to speak on. It’s like man-splaining to the n-th degree… more like Thomas-splaining since my default approach has just been to try to be the most knowledgeable person in the room regardless of gender. As I’ve gotten older, that desire of mine has fallen to the wayside in a concerted effort of mine to understand that other people know stuff too and it’s okay to not know everything. It’s a game of inches and my wife, the paragon of patience that she is, has been a great guide in my modern social evolution.

I was the rules lawyer in my D&D group. Today, I don’t have time to know all the ins-and-outs so I just go with the flow. I was the Star Wars expert in my little group of friends. Today, I’m lucky if I can keep up with The Mandalorian and it took me years to finish The Clone Wars and Rebels. I’m still the guy my friends come to if they want to buy a new PC, but mainly I just google stuff while I’m on the phone with them.

It’s less of a need to know everything now. Wade is only maybe 19 in RPO and in his early 20’s in RPT. Back when I was that age, I was an idiot, a know-it-all, terrible with the opposite sex, and it looks like Ernie Cline nailed that perspective in print. Either he kept detailed journals or he has just as many regrets about his social development as I do.

Of course, I love the books for the adventure and the chase. I’m a sucker for chases (The Fugitive is one of the best movies of all time, full stop) and these books have high speed pursuits and desperate running between objectives down pretty well. I also like the whole in-game challenge of it all. And I’m not gonna cover this up at all, but I would LOVE to experience the OASIS one day. I even got a VR headset and…

Okay on a slight tangent: Star Wars Squadrons with HOTAS setup (“Hands On Throttle And Stick” as opposed to using the mouse and keyboard) and a VR headset is one of the greatest experiences of my life. When I loaded up a practice map in an X-Wing for the first time in VR and throttled her up and wove between starship debris and asteroids, you better believe I was a child again watching Luke Skywalker make the trench run for the first time. It was almost a religious experience.

Where was I? Oh, yes, so I really enjoyed RPO and now I really enjoy RPT. I catch myself smiling or my heart rate increasing or sharing bits from the book because it’s just so much fun for me. I’m sure there are some other issues with the books that will grate on me eventually, but for now, some good old escapist adventure books are exactly what I love. Plus, I like Indiana Jones AND James Bond and those characters are TERRIBLE. It’s not the characters, it’s the adventures those popcorn movies contain that keep me coming back for more. Plus I’m far enough along in my development to know that the characters in these adventures are not who I should model my behaviors after, but I will definitely pop some popcorn and shut off my brain for a while as the chase begins and Sean Connery says something of a double entendre that was once perceived as witty about 60 years ago.

Ready Player One and Two are like… popcorn books for me, me with my joyous life-long exposure to video games, penchant for being a know-it-all, and love of the chase.


P.S. “If I was feeling depressed or frustrated about my lot in life, all I had to do was tap the Player One button, and my worries would instantly slip away as my mind focused itself on the relentless pixelated onslaught on the screen in front of me. There, inside the game’s two-dimensional universe, life was simple: It’s just you against the machine. Move with your left hand, shoot with your right, and try to stay alive as long as possible.” – Wade Watts, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

This thing is still here!

Hey everyone!

I know it’s been a while, but apparently I’ve been missing writing large blocks of text about games, so here I am!

A lot of life has happened in the last 6 years since I uploaded a post here. In that time, I’ve moved a couple of times, I got married, I got a betta fish who lived, died, and was replaced by a couple of snails, and I have a dog and he’s now almost 3 years old. Currently, I’m in the middle of a D&D game and writing this around my friends taking their turns while we fight a large water elemental rather ineffectually. I’m playing a rogue for the first time in a long time and so I’m extra ineffective.

Oh, there it goes, we finally killed it.

Anyway, I’m still playing games, still wondering why I like the things that I like, so there’s still some writing to do.

Lately, I’ve been playing Diablo III again. I know, old classic, but I’ve also dipped into Anthem, Octopath Traveler, Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars: Squadrons, Elite Dangerous, and did some Until You Fall in VR the other day.

Oh, riiiight. Things have changed! I retired my laptop in June of 2019 and now have an Aurora R8 Alienware desktop and a big monitor, so yeah! Several years ago, I cancelled my sub to SWTOR and 6 months later picked up FFXIV. No regrets at all and that game has become almost a second home to me. I acquired a refurbished Oculus Rift VR headset in early June 2020 and I’ve been using it off and on to play Beat Saber and other games like Star Trek Bridge Crew. I’ve also acquired a HOTAS setup so I can play Squadrons in VR and have the full experience.

Anyway, our game is still going on, so I’d better focus on it!

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “How in the world does a 33 Acrobatics check put me in the water?!” – Me, just now, in my D&D game.

It’s Been A While

Hey there folks, it’s been a while since I’ve had much of an opportunity to write. I haven’t been gaming exceptionally much of late and life is keeping me extraordinarily busy.

What I will mention is that in the last couple of months I’ve very much enjoyed the Diablo III update, the housing update to Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I’m playing Dragon Age II again.

On the D3 update: my character feels stronger than ever. My wizard is a joy to play and I’m often playing at Torment IV. The new equipment I find really encourages good strong looks at the stats and I appreciate tough decisions at high level regarding equipment.

For SWTOR: The housing system is a lot of fun. I spent an entire evening just decorating my main stronghold (the Nar Shaddaa sky palace). It’s really expensive to expand these strongholds and the Tatooine one is exorbitantly expensive. One of these days I’ll get back into it, I hope.

Tuesday, Borderlands The Pre-Sequel releases and I’m hoping everything goes smoothly regarding the free copy I got at PAX East back in April. I’m really looking forward to the story as well as the new characters and gameplay mechanics.

Later this month, Civilization Beyond Earth is dropping (on the 24th) and I’m very excited for that as well. I’m intentionally avoiding the videos and streams they’re releasing so that I can figure this stuff out on my own. Probably not the best idea I’ve had, but I don’t have much time for watching gameplay videos right now.

In Arena Commander, I’ve been spending time lately trying to improve my piloting skills. I’m pretty terrible, but I feel like I’m getting better all the time. Then again, when you’re the worst, all you can do is get better. I’m a bad shot with the gimbaled weapons removed from my 300i trainer, but I’m figuring it out. The main issue is that the Vanduul will change directions randomly after I fire, so it looks like I’m going to hit and then… nope. Oh well, like I said, I’ll figure it out eventually. I just want to get good at this game because when Star Citizen drops I want to be decent enough at it so I can get beyond the starting areas and out into the universe at large.

Speaking of universes, I’ve been considering investigating roleplaying games to see what their populations are. For example, older games, because of the limited space and capabilities of their platforms back then, have smaller observable and implied world populations than modern games. In Final Fantasy VI, there’s about 15 cities but maybe only a few hundred NPCs you can interact with and an implied few thousand actually in the world. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, there’s many thousands of NPCs and an implied number of millions or billions on some worlds thanks to the draw distance and such. I feel like saving the world or the universe is much less impactful when the world/universe isn’t very big or populated. Just a thought that’s been bugging me for a few years now.

However, it’s back to not blogging for a bit. Balancing school, work, and a social life takes up a significant portion of my time these days and I don’t necessarily have something to write about. Therefore, expect me when you see me.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” – Gandalf

Coming Up

I’m going to have issues in the near future keeping up with everything that’s going on. Namely, gaming is going to have to take a back seat to work and school. Here’s what’s going on…

Currently I’m working nearly 40 hours a week, 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. Starting this Thursday, every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday will have an evening class going from 7pm to nearly 10pm. I’ll have an indeterminate amount of weekly homework to do and my “social obligations” to keep up. As a result, I’m going to be having less and less time to game. All that said, here are the things I’m very much looking forward to…

Civilization: Beyond Earth

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Any and all updates for Star Wars: The Old Republic

The upcoming patch for Diablo III

Now, the two game releases are coming in October and I’ve already got my copy of Borderlands coming to me (courtesy of the free copy I got at PAX East from the fine folks at 2K and Gearbox) and I need to pre-order Civ on Steam.

The upcoming things for SWTOR and Diablo III are big content updates that excite and thrill me (namely Galactic Strongholds and patch 2.1.0 respectively).

Anyway, I’ve got plenty of things to look forward to and in the meantime, I can’t guarantee having enough to talk about here. If I miss a Monday here or there, I hope it’s understood I’m just busy and very possibly have nothing to share.

Until next time!

 – Thomas

P.S. “Better to wear out than to rust out.” – Bishop Cumberland


Customer Service Follow-up

This past Thursday I submitted what I thought was a second customer service ticket in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Basically it solved my issue.

It turns out that the same bug that ate my cartel coins also probably interfered with my ticket submission. So, waiting until Thursday to file a second ticket probably wasn’t the best of ideas.

That said, Friday morning I had a response from customer service. They had refunded me my 600 cartel coins and informed me about what had probably happened to my first ticket.

I’m so glad that I was able to get through to CS after a while. I understand that they’re hardworking people and they don’t get a lot of gratitude (mainly because there’s not any real feedback they can get unless they hang out on the forums and that place is the land of negativity). I love how quickly they were able to resolve things for me and I really appreciate the help. I didn’t want to be frustrated with SWTOR and I’m glad I’m no longer.

I went and bought my 13th character slot on Saturday and then went and bought an unlock for a friend… and totally forgot that it takes a day and a half to cool down before I could trade it. Oops.

Anyway, I’ve been playing my Trooper Vanguard in SWTOR lately and I’d like to bang out some more of Taris tonight.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “Delighted customers are the only advertisement everyone believes.” – Ron Kaufman

The Customer Service Tango

I was poking at Star Wars: The Old Republic this past Saturday, and I decided that I wanted to mess around in the character creator without deleting any of my people. Well, as it turns out I had 12 characters and had to buy a new slot. Not a problem. With my monthly stipend of 600 cartel coins, a new character slot was only a few clicks away… or so I had thought.

I opened the Cartel Market, found the Additional Character Slot unlock item, and clicked Buy Now. I got a tiny error message (that I don’t remember what it specifically said) and then nothing happened. Except I still lost 600 cartel coins. There was nothing in my Unclaimed Items page, nothing in my inventory, and I still had 12 character slots. I was confused.

So, I logged out and back in. No change. I switched characters. Nope. I poked around a bit longer but then filed a customer service ticket in game. Alas, upon submitting the ticket, it vanished. Apparently there’s a bug that makes your tickets disappear from your Help Ticket History upon submission. I don’t know if it went through and I don’t remember exactly what I said. Lovely.

Let me say that I absolutely love Star Wars: The Old Republic. I have a six month subscription and I’ve had it since the game launched back in December 2011 (well, technically since January 2012 but that’s because I got a free month with the collector’s edition). I understand that bugs happen and it’s okay. I also understand that customer service may have not gotten to my ticket yet or it may have been eaten by the system. These things happen from time to time and I’m not sore about it.

However, I did pay for something that I didn’t get and that irks me on a more visceral level. So… I think I need to make a forum post tonight about it. I gave them Sunday and Monday to get back to me about it, so now it’s time to hit the forums and see what happens.

Watch as they get back to me as I write my forum post.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.” – Jeff Bezos

Multiplay FTW

This past weekend I spent some time playing some Diablo III and Civilization V with my friends. Hands down, some of the most fun I’ve had is with my crazy friends in games.

In Diablo III, the goal was to get a friend’s Demon Hunter some better equipment. The legendaries just kept dropping for him and we were laughing about how he was getting all the items and the Witch Doctor wasn’t getting any.

In Civilization V, I started a game with one friend where he’s America and I’m Venice. Then with him and two other friends, we did another game (he’s still America, I’m still Venice, but my other friends are Shoshone and Polynesia).

These days it’s not as easy as I’d like it to schedule time with my friends. Everyone’s getting or is already married, there’s kids, jobs, other friends. Everything’s perfectly understandable. This is, I think, one of the few times in the last several years where we’ve been able to arrange four player gaming for hours on end. It was really great and a lot more fun than I remember.

Sure, you can play these games alone, but sometimes, playing with friends just blows single player out of the water.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships.” – Abraham Lincoln

Increasing Difficulty, Doesn’t Feel Like It – Diablo III

I played a ton of Diablo III this weekend, but the key thing that happened was I kicked the difficulty up from Torment I to Torment III and I didn’t really notice much of a change (other than the random death that was considerably more rare in Torment I).

What happened to push me into higher difficulty settings? Well it really only took one legendary sword.

I was playing along, using my Blackhand Key wand and I stumbled across this sword, Thunderfury. The version I have is far better than the one in the link, but essentially, that’s what it is. I slapped a Flawless Royal Emerald into the socket and immediately noticed a significant damage increase. Why? It turns out that when you have a near 50% critical hit chance (like I did), increasing your critical damage by 130% has a really big impact on your damage output. To the tune of making Torment I so easy I was getting bored and Torment II was almost as easy.

After that, the special equipment just started coming my way. Long story short, I now have three of the five pieces of Tal Rasha’s Elements, Mirrorball, and I’m well on my way to finishing out two other sets that I may use depending on my whimsy.

I even adjusted my build. No longer do I use Arcane Torrent, I now pelt enemies with Meteor Shower. I replaced the passive Evocation with Elemental Exposure. So now I’m hitting with ice (from Glacial Spike), lightning (courtesy of Thunderfury and Supermassive Black Hole), arcane (thanks to Cannoneer), and fire (from the meteors). That gives me and my allies a 20% bonus to damage (optimally if I’ve connected on an enemy with all four elements) thanks to Elemental Exposure.

Another reason for dropping Arcane Torrent: while it WAS doing tons of damage, it forced me to stand still while dumping my arcane power. Too much standing still doesn’t allow for a lot of survivability. Also, it just didn’t feel super satisfying to hit things. Glacial Spike is incredibly satisfying with how it smacks into things. Black Hole is very satisfying with how it just pulls most of the enemies into it, allowing me to fire Glacial Spike/Cannoneer into them or even Meteor Showers.

Here, take a look at my character (if you can, I’m not sure how well it works). While the sheet says my damage is in the 700k range (right now) I can regularly get that number up to over 1 million. I often crit for damage in the range of 2.5 – 4.5 million per hit (give or take) so I’m not sure how accurate that sheet number is, but there it is. I’m still enjoying how much damage I do and Torment III is just as easy as Torment I was before this windfall of equipment (pretty easy).

The take-away here is I’m having so much fun in Diablo III and I’m looking forward to the new patch and introduction of new things (which I talked about a few weeks ago).

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Enjoy this old Blizzard joke.

Too Old? Never!

Today I was talking to someone at work about how they’re redesigning Batgirl and she’s looking really great (and practically dressed which is a plus with me). Another person mentioned that they thought I was too old for comics and I said something to the effect of “I’m a Toys R Us kid! I’m never growing up!”

Obviously, such a statement, “you’re too old for that,” is thrown around by people who aren’t aware of the breadth and depth of mediums such as comics and even video games. As this is a gaming blog, I’m going to tackle the game portion.

First, let’s look at the games themselves. Do they have an age ceiling? Nope. Do they have a minimum age? Some do. So, some can’t (well, SHOULDN’T) be played too young, but they’re available to anyone over that age up to the limit of our natural lives. Cool.

Although, I’m sure she’s not referring to LEGALLY aging out of them though. How about maturing past the content?

Sure, there are some games that I’m way too old for and I’m definitely not the target market any more. I grew up playing Number Munchers, Mixed-Up Mother Goose Rhymes, Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? and several others that were obviously designed with children in mind. I don’t really have a desire to play them today and they’re all far too easy for me now. No real challenges there (except maybe Carmen Sandiego). How about the other games I grew up with? Well, Starflight, Civilization, Sim City, X-Wing, and X-COM were all marketed to adults. Starflight was such a massive game, my Dad took a very methodical approach to it, mapping out every wormhole, each special artifact, and more on the map that came with the game. If you ever come across the map we have, you could probably beat the game with it. Civilization and Sim City are powerhouse franchises today, made by and played by people of every age group, but back then they had rather steep learning curves and it took some serious dedication (that children usually don’t come pre-built with) to master. X-Wing was one of several flight sims from the age when you were either in the Star Wars camp or the Wing Commander camp (I didn’t play Wing Commander until WC3 came out and I finally played the first two when I got to college) and there was no guarantee you could get your computer to play them without a potential video or sound card upgrade (which typically required being an adult). X-COM scared the crap out of me as a kid (those damn Chryssalids and their creepy grins) and still spooks me today, but I played that for almost 20 years, and even then, I’m playing the remake which will probably keep me playing another 20 or more years.

I think this issue with being too old for something is more a misperception of the medium in question. Comics have been viewed in the past as only a thing for children, but now the stories are more mature and tackle a wide variety of issues. In fact, they’ve been extremely mature for decades now.  Someone saying that you can be too old for comics hasn’t educated themselves enough regarding the material and thus, probably should either be given an opportunity to educate themselves or, failing that, should be left alone in their old-fashioned beliefs. No longer is it just Garfield bemoaning Mondays or Snoopy stealing Linus’ blanket. It’s a young woman being paralyzed by a murderous villain but surviving and becoming a source of inspiration to many. It’s a group of uniquely talented people coming together in adverse conditions to address a threat to society and life as we know it, overcoming their own personal foibles in an effort to do good. It’s a being from another world, or even just someone who’s different somehow, just trying to fit in.

So too it is with video games. They have never been solely a child’s plaything, they have given us incredible mental challenges to overcome, they’ve taxed our resolve, they’ve allowed us to step away from our daily grind and into a fantasy realm that was once only the purview of movies, music, books, and art. While some games attract children for the bright colors and flashy graphics, other games attract older folk for deeper, more nuanced reasons and can be appreciated in a much wider way. I can say with certainty that I have been as equally drawn into a good game as into a good book, a good movie, a good song, a good comic book. There’s that feeling upon finishing such a thing that is nearly indescribable. You know you’ve experienced a significant thing and you’re simultaneously breathless and sad and happy and lost and you don’t know whether or not to restart and try to recapture the experience or to step away and digest.

If growing up means being too old for comics and games, then I’ll never grow up. Of course, it helps I’m a Toys R Us kid.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. This feels appropriate.



Laughing While Gaming

This weekend I was playing Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and decided to tap the Krogan Warlord Sentinel for play. It’s a predominantly melee based character, so never having really played him before, I poked around online and found some build advice for the skillset.

What I discovered was sheer joy.

Seriously. I spent every match running all over every map, “slapping” enemies out of the way, headbutting, and swinging my giant hammer imbued with biotic energy to one-hit-kill Brutes and more.

Built properly, the Krogan Warlord is a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut. That said, he’s only “nigh-unstoppable” because he can get synch-killed by Banshee’s and others if he’s not careful. I ran headlong into an insta-death at the pointy ends of a Praetorian and it wasn’t fun.

Now, the laughing part… whenever the Krogan Warlord starts his rage, he laughs. After some kills he laughs. With this preponderance of laughing, first you smile, then you start to laugh a little bit, then you’re cheering and laughing with abandon. He’s running, smacking enemies, laughing, and it’s so much fun!

Anyway, I thought I’d share that today. Games that make us laugh are difficult to make and this little thing here was a total surprise. I don’t think I’ll play him all the time, but he’s certainly a favorite.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “Now we can get back to doing what Krogan do best: saving everyone else from giant monsters.” – Urdnot Wrex

My New Pride and Joy

This past week or so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Star Citizen. Mainly, my original contribution from two years ago.

You see, I invested in the Scout package which netted me a nice Aurora MR and lifetime insurance for it. This past week, I was playing Arena Commander (formerly the dogfight demo) and felt that the Aurora wasn’t really for me. It just didn’t have the maneuverability that I like in a ship, let alone a fighter. So I started looking at my options.

Option 1: Shell out some cash for a cross-chassis upgrade to the Origin Jumpworks 300i. This lets me transfer my lifetime insurance to the new ship.

Option 2: Shell out some cash for a cross-chassis upgrade to the Anvil Aerospace F7C Hornet. This also lets me transfer my lifetime insurance to the new ship.

Option 3: Purchase another ship entirely and just cope with the fact that its free insurance will run out in 4-6 months.

At the time I was making my decision, the Hornet was available to try out in Arena Commander and I took it for a spin around the block. It was fun, more so than the Aurora, but I felt it was missing something else. I then knuckled under and did some research on the forums and on YouTube on the 300 series (as it was the only one I couldn’t try out). I finally decided (after a day or so of thinking) that I’d do Option 1 above.

Now, that decision made, was I happy with the baseline 300i model or did I want a different version? New options!

Option A: Stay with the Origin Jumpworks 300i.

Option B: Shell out some cash for a ship upgrade to the Origin Jumpworks 315p.

Option C: Shell out some cash for a ship upgrade to the Origin Jumpworks 325a.

Option D: Wish that the Origin Jumpworks 350r package was available for purchase.

Well, I exercised option D right away, but after even more research into the differences, I finally settled on the 315p upgrade. Here’s why I chose it:

– The 315p comes with a jump engine (the other variants don’t specify having one)

– The 315p comes with a tractor beam (while I could always use another gun, I appreciate the potential for the tractor beam)

The ship brochure said that it had more powerful engines and a better power plant because it was the exploration variant

– The 315p comes with a special scanner package (I think it’s to help identify new jump points or something)

– The 315p has more cargo space

Now that I’ve had some time with the 300i trainer (it’s pretty darn maneuverable and I enjoy flying it) I have a couple of things to say. First, I hope that when Star Citizen finally shows up that my ship is far less squishy than it is right now. As it is, it feels like it’s made of paper, shields and all. Second, I really hope that the racing engines that the 350r comes with will be able to mount on my 315p (I love twin engines). Third, I hope that I become much better at flying because there’s a bit of a learning curve to the mechanics.

I really like my 315p. It looks like a combination between a Scimitar and a Hellcat. I changed my desktop wallpaper for the first time since October to this lovely image of it (click to make it worth your time).

315pIf you’re interested in seeing more, here’s a floor show video of it.

I’m really proud of my purchase and I’m looking forward to flying it for real in the actual game. I’ll be okay flying the trainer in the meantime, but Star Citizen can’t come soon enough.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Here’s the director’s cut advertisement for the 300 series. See if you can spot the Wing Commander III scenes.

Another Update for Diablo III

Instead of the myriad of hotfixes and the like we used to get in the many moons prior to the Reaper of Souls expansion, Blizzard’s Diablo III is apparently getting another significant update. Let’s walk through it, because I’m interested and because, why not?

First up is something called Seasons. According to Blizzard, they’re similar to the ladders from Diablo II in that you’re climbing the leaderboards and there’s a start and end to each season that denotes the term of the leaderboard. Apparently at the start of each season, a list of “Conquests” will become available and the first 1000 to complete each conquest in a season gets put on the regional leaderboard. These conquests act like achievements and are planned to exist in groups of 10-15 per season. They’re also capable of piling on the achievement points for your profile. Further, if you don’t want to participate in the Seasons, there’s not much of a down-side since the special “Seasonal Legendaries” will be added to the regular loot tables once the season is over. I don’t think I’ll do this initially, but I’ll keep my eye on it just in case I feel like participating one day.

The next thing that’s being added are Greater Rifts. Apparently what you do is you complete a regular rift and the Rift Guardian at the end may drop a Greater Rift Key. Then, you go to where you’d normally go to start up a rift and use the key. I think everyone has to have a Greater Rift Key in order to access a greater rift. The differences between the Greater Rift and the standard one are many, so here’s a list:

  • You race against a clock to finish the rift
  • Most monsters don’t drop loot (it’s all shifted to the Rift Guardian)
  • The tougher the monster, the more it adds to your percent completed bar
  • You can’t resurrect at your corpse or in town, just at the last checkpoint
  • You cannot use banners or teleport to someone who’s in a Greater Rift
  • Greater Rifts have an internal leveling mechanism separate from the existing difficulty levels

On that last point, Blizzard states that, “If you complete a Greater Rift before time expires you’ll advance to the next difficulty level. Should your time be exceptionally good, you might even skip a few levels! If time instead expires, you’ll have reached the end of your current Greater Rift journey and your best results will be posted to the appropriate Leaderboards.” I think this means that you can get pretty far (possibly) with just one rift key. In regards to the standard rift, they’re implementing that “monster toughness affects your completion bar” bullet. Also, the standard rift will require all rift participants to contribute one rift fragment instead of one person contributing five. I think this is going to be quite exciting!

The next item is a no-brainer: they’re adding leaderboards. Greater Rift leaderboards will be split between Hardcore and Normal and are further broken down into categories by class and party size. Obviously some leaderboards will be Season-only.

Next, there are two mechanical changes coming to the game. The first deals with the dexterity stat for Monks and Demon Hunters. They’re making it so that instead of adding a percent of Dodge Chance, each point of Dexterity adds 1 point of Armor. Not only is Dodge not necessarily as reliable as Armor, but it can also keep you from doing what you want to do while your character Dodges everything under the sun. As a result of this change, some passives for the Monk and Demon Hunter will change as well. According to a friend of mine who has a high level Monk, he’s excited for this change and looks forward to not being interrupted as often by dodging. As someone who has a Wizard as my main, I hope it does what they hope it will.

The second mechanical change coming to the game is regarding Health Globes. Apparently due to testing of Greater Rifts, they discovered that there was too much dependency on the healing provided by Health Globes and not enough quality of healing from the gear stats such as Life on Hit and Life Regeneration. As a result, they’re going to reduce the healing that the Health Globes provide and increase the impact of the healing from the aforementioned gear stats. The goal Blizzard hopes for is a more consistent experience when the difficulty kicks up. Color me intrigued.

Lastly, they’re adding a new map to the rift: The Cesspools. Blizzard calls it a “festering, dank underworld” that was originally designed as the sewers of Westmarch that didn’t quite make it into the final release. I’m a fan of new scenery, so bring it on!

All in all, I have to say that Blizzard has really kicked things up a notch with regards to support for Diablo III. Two massive updates in one year? Someone’s paying attention at Blizzard HQ. I’m looking forward to this next update and for whatever they have coming down the development pipeline. 2014 has definitely been a good year for Diablo III with everything that came with the Reaper of Souls expansion and the Loot 2.0 update and it’s only getting better.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. I don’t remember if he says it in this game, but I’ll never forget Deckard Cain going “Stay awhile and listen”.

Crafting My Way Through Middle Earth

In a little over a week I went from level 1 to level 40 by primarily farming and cooking with some tailoring on the side and a handful of non-combat quests and activities in Lord of the Rings Online.

I’ve discovered several things during this experiment:

– There’s no money in grinding tailor or cooking or farming

– There’s money in making a ton of Blackberry Ale and a few other recipes

– Seed money from friends is a great thing

– Explaining what you’re doing to a random stranger can occasionally net some gold (in this case, I got 4 gold from someone who thought crafting my way through the levels was rather funny)

– Several recipes have an issue where they’re made of really inexpensive components until the final stage where one of the things you need is going to cost a lot more than the final product (case in point: coffee sells for about 3 or 4 silver per cup and one of the components is a large clay pot worth something around 7 silver… and you need 1 large clay pot PER cup of coffee made)

– As a result of the prior point, stopping production and selling what you have created can not only save you money, but can generate a significant quantity of money at the same time (stopping at roasting the coffee beans and NOT making the cups of coffee will actually turn a profit)

– I finally beat out my frequent misspelling of “recepie”

– Taking a break every now and again isn’t a bad idea… when I hit level 33, I went and got all the exploration deeds in Ered Luin, The Shire, and Bree-Land, as well as all the stable masters (especially the ones just inside the adjacent areas at Trestlebridge, Oatbarton, and The Forsaken Inn)

– Having a friend who is an alt-aholic and who has every crafting profession AND a massive stockpile of materials to support fledgling crafters is SO HELPFUL

– Yeoman is THE BEST vocation to do this with as Farming and Cooking are essentially self-reliant and Tailor can be ignored or supplemented by friends or the auction hall (if you’re lucky)

– My choice to make a hunter was BRILLIANT as the Return to Camp and Guide skills are invaluable for getting to everywhere I want to go

Now that I’m a Master Westemnet Farmer and a Master Westemnet Cook, I’m grinding Westemnet coffee for experience and money. It’s not bad and if I really want a lot of money I can always make Blackberry Ale (serious profits there). In the meantime, I’m enjoying relaxing, catching up on some podcasts and listening to game soundtracks.

I highly recommend giving the crafting only approach a shot if you’re up for it. It’s pretty nice.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Blackberry Ale gets you seriously knackered in one use. BE CAREFUL WHEN IMBIBING IT!

P.P.S. “I drink when I have occasion, and sometimes when I have no occasion.” – Miguel de Cervantes

The Flow of Gaming

This past week I’ve gone from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, to Dragon Age 2, to Lord of the Rings Online. I basically went from an intense, 3rd person perspective, free-running, roof leaping, high seas sailing, cannon firing game to a high fantasy, tactical RPG, with a strong narrative that’s quite heavy at times, to a character that’s only leveling by farming and cooking and tailoring.

That last one is part joke and part vacation, with a dash of whimsey and spiced up by being able to catch up on podcasts.

First thing’s first: I finished AC4 and WOW was it good. The story was compelling, the meta/modern story tied it to the other games in the series, the gameplay was satisfying with a minimum of frustrations (I dropped the F-bomb only occasionally and it was typically when Edward decided to grab onto something I didn’t want him to grab… still way less common than with Altair or Ezio), and I finished with 95% completion (or something like it). I might go back some day to polish the game off properly, but right now, I’m stuffed. The ending left me rather proud of the man Edward had turned into and I only wished there was more of him. Tragically, if you look him up, there isn’t too much more to his story after he returns to England. I wrapped up AC4 in just under 70 hours of play.

In the “I’ve finished this great book, now what?” glow, I noticed that Origin was having a 70% off sale and, being me, I couldn’t resist poking around. I found that Dragon Age 2 was going for 6 bucks and snapped it up. It would’ve been a mistake to turn that down, especially after enjoying Dragon Age: Origins SO MUCH back in January. I banged through Dragon Age 2 in less time than it took me to play AC4 (approximately 24 hours of play). In fact, it was another proverbial page-turner of a book. I couldn’t put it down.

The gameplay of DA2 is definitely more streamlined from DA:O, but it’s not bad at all. The interface is simpler, you don’t have to worry about equipping armor to your companions and, as a result, you have more discretionary funds because you’re not stockpiling equipment. I found myself never hurting for money in the game and swimming in equipment I couldn’t use (I first played through as a Rogue and my current playthrough is as a Mage). I loved all the tie-ins to the previous installment and genuinely enjoyed the story. It was heavy in just the right places, shocking me in some parts, making me laugh in others. All told, a wonderful experience that I’m glad I had.

So, coming down from THAT “I’ve finished another great book, now what” glow, I was chatting with a friend on the weekend who talked about his silly idea in Lord of the Rings Online where he’s leveling only by crafting. That’s right, he got out of the intro and was level 26 through only cooking and farming after about 4 months of just dabbling in it. I latched onto the idea and immediately made a new character and set about the Yeoman vocation with gusto. As of yesterday night/very early this morning, I’m about 65% of the way through level 30, I’ve made inroads on Westfold cooking and farming and Journeyman tailor. It’s actually rather enjoyable and I find myself laughing a bit every time I ding a new level. It’s certainly allowed me to catch up on podcasts I’ve been missing out on lately.

There appears to be this ebb and flow of gaming intensity. Intense gaming to slightly-less-intense gaming to extremely-not-intense gaming. Almost like AC4 was the first part of the bell curve, sloping upward and taking half the peak, DA2 was on the other half of the peak and the downslope, and LOTRO is at the bottom (at least for what I’m doing in LOTRO right now, although it’s normally a pretty mellow experience for me). I’m left wondering now… what’s next? I’m certainly looking forward to getting back into Star Wars: The Old Republic (I’m waiting mainly for Galactic Strongholds to drop) and in the meantime I’m poking tentatively at the Arena Commander module for Star Citizen and hoping I can become a better pilot in my plucky little Aurora (and wishing I had more cash to throw at them so I could get more ships to try).

For now, I’m kind of into the whole farming/cooking thing. I’m looking at doing some Blackberry Ale producing today with some valuation scribbling going on so I know if it’s profitable or not. Regardless, the whole thing gives steady experience, so it’s a win-win.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. I remembered this video today. It’s from Babylon 5, Season 1, and it highlights how my thought process works sometimes. Garibaldi gets some of the best lines in the show.

Sailing the Deep Blue Sea – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

I know I’m slow on the uptake with regards to triple-A titles, but I recently acquired a copy of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on Steam and I’ve been playing it essentially non-stop (to the detriment of my sleep schedule) since I installed it late Wednesday night.

I’ve played a significant portion of the Assassin’s Creed series, however, I’ve only beaten two of the games: Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. I remember playing the first one and being incredibly bored with how slow it was, how difficult the fighting was, how drab the scenery was. Then AC2 dropped and WOW, the color, the combat, the scenery! Also, Ezio was a much more sympathetic character than Altair. I skipped playing Revelations because I never finished Brotherhood (but I know they’re both spectacular parts to the series). I watched a friend play AC3 and found myself feeling rather frustrated with the main character. I thought the story was spectacular and the naval combat in particular was something there needed to be more of somehow, but Connor was just permanently cranky and had (I felt) no sense of humor (much like Altair).

I was interested in getting Black Flag maybe a little while ago when I was poking through Steam and saw that it had open world sailing. I’m something of a fan of naval warfare (being a descendant of two career navy men will do that to you) and being able to sail and upgrade (and possibly customize) my own ship has always appealed to me. It wasn’t until Wednesday night where my desire to get the game overcame my grip on my wallet.

AC4 is a beautiful game. Some of the things I’ve noticed since I started playing have been the quality of the water (considering there’s so much of it, it has to look great), the weather in the game, the fact that if it’s raining, the rain will pool on flat surfaces and there will be rain drops, waterspouts, basically anything having to do with water. The characters look like a logical progression from the earlier games in the series, although there’s the occasional and forgivable clipping issue related to costumes (I got the Mayan outfit last night and there was a clipping issue with one of the arm panels when someone else came into contact with Edward during a cutscene). The environments are top notch. Gone are the extremely obvious grab points from the original games and now here are the perfectly natural looking grasping spots that look like they belong there. There’s still the recycled scenery (viewpoints made of driftwood are basically cookie cutter), but again, forgivable given the quality of everything else.

I find the growth of Edward Kenway during the game to be fascinating. He starts out wanting to make a fortune and eventually winds up… becoming something more grown up. I suppose losing your drinking buddies over time has that effect on a guy. He’s neither Templar nor Assassin at the beginning and, in fact, for most of the game. He’s just another person thrown into this eternal conflict between the two factions and I like the perspective.

I’m very close to the end of the game. Right now I’m feeling like I want to sprint to the end, to just get to the free roaming portion after the story’s all wrapped up so I can do whatever, like taking on the Legendary Ships or finishing out the Assassin Contracts. I hear the Pistol Swords you get for finishing that last one are pretty awesome.

There are some portions I’m iffy on. I’ve never been great at combat in the AC series. It has a timing nature to its flow that I’ve never been especially adept with. Further, I’m terrified of Man O’ War ships and I can’t seem to stay in their aft arc like people recommend doing in order to take out the big ships efficiently. It’s possible I’m doing something wrong there, but I just know that my poor Jackdaw can’t take sustained broadsides from anything larger than a schooner (and that’s with all but one of the hull upgrades). I find myself thanking the developers from keeping escort missions to a minimum, especially escorts where the health of the escorted party is important. I appreciate the stealth elements of the game as being stealthy helps compensate for my shoddy combat skills, but I’m not the best at stealth by any means.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and I highly recommend it. It mixes the fun of Assassin’s Creed with open world sailing and piracy. If they don’t make some sort of MMO based on the sailing portion, I think they’re missing out. Seriously, there’s maybe one game like that and it’s Uncharted Waters Online (which I’m not especially fond of since it changed hands not too long ago and the gameplay is rather unintuitive).

It’s definitely scratched that itch I had regarding sailing the deep blue sea. I was seriously craving that.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Come for the Assassin’s Creed, stay for the sea shanties!

Supergiant Games’ Transistor

Some games defy explanation to third parties. You just have to play them. It’s easy enough to describe Assassin’s Creed (free running, stabbing, and blending into the public with a pretty straight-forward storyline wrapped in a confusing-esque Templar v. Assassin environment) or Diablo III (point and click hack and slash with plenty of randomness to keep it fresh), but some games like Bastion and Transistor kind of elude me. I guess they could be defined as narrative action adventure games, but that’s not as specific as I normally like to be.

I got Bastion a while ago on Steam and it’s certainly fun. The graphics are exceptional, the music is quite good, and the game play is pretty straight-forward. The story comes out as you play in such a way that you don’t necessarily put all the pieces together until the very end.

So too is it with Transistor, which came out last Tuesday on Steam. The graphics are pretty great and remind me of Shadowrun Returns (just with more character), the music is stellar (I have the soundtrack and We All Become is incredible), and the game play really appeals to the turn-based strategy guy in me. Let me explain that last bit. The combat mechanism in this game allows you to hit a button and you can queue up moves to perform that take up sections of a meter. You can plan everything out for a little bit. Then hit the button and your character plays everything out for you and you need to keep her alive until the meter fills up again. Simple. Well, not simple, but it’s really great for sitting back, examining the battlefield, and setting things up. There’s also a wide variety of abilities and they all are extremely effective. You can mix and match programs to compliment your play style or you can go completely crazy and have what feel sometimes to be strange combinations.

If you’ve played Bastion or Portal or similar narrative action-adventure games, you’ll be familiar with the story exposition in Transistor. Something’s happened and you’re out trying to figure out 1) what happened, 2) how can I survive this, and 3) who’s responsible so I can smack them upside the head.

You can play through the game in just a few hours, but there’s a new game plus mode and a challenge area that can extend your game time into double digits pretty easily.

All told, when I beat the game (probably the first of many times), well, let’s just say the ending had an impact on me that left me sitting there kind of stunned for a bit. It’s not bad, just unexpected and different.

I recommend you check it out.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “Look, whatever you’re thinking, don’t let me go.” – The Transistor

Simming a City

I’ve been playing EA’s latest iteration of SimCity for a couple of weeks now and I’ve really been enjoying it.

I’m a veteran of the SimCity franchise. I own an original box copy of the first SimCity (red copy protection sheet and all) and I’ve played SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, The Sims, The Sims 2, and SimCity Societies. Oh, and I’ve played The Sims Carnival: Snap City, SimAnt, SimTower, and probably a couple of others I’ve forgotten in the intervening years. I’ve got a little bit of experience with these kinds of games. That said, I am by no means an expert or the best at playing them.

When I first installed the 2013 installment into the franchise (at the behest of a friend), I was initially concerned. When I was at PAX East 2013, SimCity was the joke of the convention. A traditionally single player game made into a multiplayer only game? The city zones were only 4km square? Why do I always have to be online? Thankfully, the year I waited to get the game allowed for the developers to address the concerns of the community (which were quite loudly proclaimed at PAX East) and the game has matured since its controversial launch.

I started playing a few weeks after the launch of the single player component (I think it doesn’t require an online connection for that part). Yes, the city plots are small, HOWEVER, you are but one city in a region of cities and you can develop each one to address issues in the region. Technically, you could have a single city be entirely residential, another be entirely commercial, and another be entirely industrial. That’s because they’re all basically right next door to each other and if you’re capable of juggling three cities with independent budgets all at once, more power to you. It’s an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head, but I’m not particularly keen on bouncing between cities too much.

There are some significant improvements over the predecessors and I’d like to touch on them:

– No more laying down pipes and power lines: they all follow your roads. That said, you can’t zone or place any buildings without roads already placed. If you bulldoze a road, you remove the buildings and zoning reliant on that road for their connection.

– Zoning Residential/Commercial/Industrial no longer costs money.

– Bulldozing no longer costs money.

– Buildings can be improved with additions, if you have the room for them. I especially like this part.

– You can now specialize your cities to focus on a particular thing such as tourism, mining, or they could just be providing services.

– Speaking of providing services, you can farm out your power, water, sewage, garbage collection, police, fire, medical, etc. services to the other cities in your region. If you want, you could probably develop a huge amount of services and make that your source of revenue.

These days I’ve just been focused on figuring out how best to go about getting a city that won’t implode under massive amounts of red budget. It turns out, thus far, the key is to going slow and staying at low/medium density as long as possible. Further, don’t kick up your industry to high density unless you have a fire department with a hazmat truck (which requires research at a university in the region). Pay attention to not only the purchase price for what you’re doing, but the maintenance cost per game hour because you could be able to afford that new school or water pumping station, but the fees might sink you shortly thereafter.

I’m definitely enjoying the game though. This version of SimCity has a bright color pallet, simple to understand tools, and a versatile array of maps that allow for many questions to be answered about your city with a few clicks of the mouse.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get back to my current city. It’s running on tourism, kind of.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Check out my original SimCity street cred.

Aveline Assassin – Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD

Yesterday I picked up Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD on Steam and it’s incredibly fun.

I want to start out saying that the primary thing that attracted me to this game over AC3 or 4 is that the main character is a French-African woman, born of a slave, but saved from that life by a good father. Her mother vanishes one day and leaves a mystery that spans the game. Aveline is a wonderful character and is completely awesome.

Mechanically speaking, it plays just like I’d expect a modern AC game to play. It’s a significant improvement over the first couple of AC games as free running and combat are much more fluid and dynamic. It even has a nifty built in mini-game where you send trade ships with goods to varying ports and you can make quite a bit of money. I’ve only had a couple of issues playing, one being that the game locked up once and the other where the cursor vanishes if I try to do the trading thing using any of the shops I’ve purchased instead of the primary desk at my headquarters. I especially like the persona mechanic where you essentially change how your character is played and perceived in the world by switching between the Lady Persona, Assassin Persona, and Slave Persona. You generate and reduce notoriety differently depending on which persona you currently are wearing and it adds an incredible level of depth to the game (also satisfying my personal love for swapping costumes based on my mood).

Graphically, the game is beautiful and definitely holds up to its triple-A family members. I have all the settings maxed out and it’s just lovely. The draw distances are a little short, but I’m okay with that. I spend most of my time on the streets amongst the people anyway.

I have quite a bit of experience with the Assassin’s Creed series and I’m particularly thrilled to finally have a game where the main character is female. This is one of those games where the female protagonist really carries the story. She’s never portrayed as frail, weak willed, or any of those stereotypical feminine things that TV or some games likes to force feed us. She’s independent, headstrong, and she really knows what she wants from life. In the Lady persona, she uses men just like she uses the environment, as a stepping stone to another location or goal. In the Slave persona, she manipulates the public perception that a slave wouldn’t be smart or capable enough to slip in anywhere. She’s never attired in a way that would reveal too much of her form and she’s always dressed practically. I absolutely adore the character of Aveline. She’s quickly outshone Connor and Altair and she’s on par with Ezio for me (I really loved being Ezio).

Well done Ubisoft. Thanks for a quality story with a quality female protagonist. I can’t wait to get back to the game.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “I stand with those who stand with me. I lure my prey through the guise of a lady. I escape unnoticed through the veil of a slave. And though I may conceal my identity, one thing is certain: commit injustice in this world, and I’ll send you to the next. I am Aveline de Grandpré, I am an Assassin, and I fight for liberation.” – Aveline de Grandpré

Finals Week

Sorry folks, it’s finals week for school. As a result, I’m pretty busy staying on top of things and I don’t really have anything to talk about regarding games.

I’ve picked up and been playing Sim City (the oft maligned and finally working the way we expect it should version). It’s pretty good and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.

Other than that… SCHOOL weighs heavily on me!

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “Education is the best provision for old age.” – Aristotle

Chilling Out with Games

With the end of the semester right around the corner (finals are next week for me), I’ve been looking all over to find games that help me just chill out. This past week has been Borderlands (the first one) and Civilization V (with a couple of honorable showings from a few other games that I’ll mention).

Aside from the initial PhysX issues Borderlands was having, it’s been running pretty flawlessly. I’ve made my way through the first zone of quests and I’m in the Dahl Headlands (I think that’s what it’s called). I’m having fun, but comparatively speaking to Borderlands 2, the game feels way emptier than I expected. I think this is a side effect of Borderlands 2 having fully voice acted quests. I wish I was kidding, but Borderlands is a much quieter game as a result of less chatter resulting from quests.

I never thought I’d admit it, but I miss Claptrap and his wub wub dubstep.


Anyway, Civilization V! I beat a game as Venice the other day through pure tourism. It was a marathon style game, I was on Settler difficulty (hey, I’m here to have fun, not get smeared against the wall), and it took me until around 2004 to beat the game. I’m looking forward to trying other civs (I’ve got several different multiplayer games with friends going on so I can do that) but right now my favorite game changers are Venice and the Shoshone. I have yet to get to the end of the tech tree these days, but I’m hoping to push through with a game as the Babylonians.

Now, the other games I’ve dabbled in.

Awesomenauts. They just introduced the new character Penny Fox. Normally (for deeply personal reasons) I despise foxes, but this one’s perfectly fine with me (maybe I’m moving on). Penny is extremely fun to play and is remarkably potent on the battlefield. I think she may supplant Ayla as my favorite, but it’s hard to say at this point since I’ve only played her on Practice mode with two bars of AI difficulty (it goes from 0 to 5). Yesterday I played through the entire list of characters, reinforcing my perspectives on several of them and surprising myself with how easy some of them are to play (Leon is definitely fun to play, Froggy G not so much, Voltar and Genji are equally irritating to me but I can win, Ted McPain is so cool). Further, the addition of the new announcer SUSI (Specialized Universal Secretary Interface) adds another level of humor to the game that I really enjoy. When swapping announcers, I noticed that there’s four, but three of them appear to sound the same. I wonder what’s up with that.

Redshirt. I tried this out for a few hours last night. Apparently developed by a single person, Redshirt is a Star Trek parody displayed through a Facebook parody called “Spacebook”. You manipulate social media and events to move through the careers available on the station, ultimately culminating in becoming the Commander’s personal assistant (or something). There’s two modes, Story and Endless, where Story seems to end after about 155 days or so. It’s not a bad game and it’s charming in its deceptively simple approach. I especially enjoy the away missions where people get murdered (often my entire team but me because I sacrificed someone on the other team) and as a result a lot of job openings pop up. One thing that happened last night was I accidentally got someone to ask for a relationship with me, but because I was seeking a relationship with another character (one of the little bonus things you can do) I turned him down. Ever since I turned him down, I worked to get him to like me again and then he asked me for a relationship again. Well, rather than deal with that, an away mission popped up and I had to choose someone to die instead of me. I chose him and didn’t feel an ounce of remorse. UNWANTED AFFECTION DEALT WITH IN A PROFESSIONAL MANNER!

Also, side thing: I JUST figured out what was causing the power issues on my computer. Turns out there’s this thing called “Desktop Mode” on my battery icon and I have it on. It takes about 2 weeks to kick in and then it causes the system to ignore the charger while it depletes down to 50% and then it automatically charges back up. This is how it extends the life of the battery. Tragically, as a guy who does a lot of gaming, this can be perceived as an actual issue (two video cards suck up a lot of juice and the computer goes into some sort of panic mode). Whenever I reset the power, it treated it as resetting the Desktop Mode, so every two weeks it would kick in again and ignore the power supply. I have a choice now: cut off the desktop mode and just accept that my battery won’t last that long, or leave it in and just understand this will happen every now and again. I’ll figure it out.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. Enjoy this video showcasing Penny Fox from Awesomenauts!

It’s a Brave New World – Civilization V

Since I got back from PAX East, I’d been hankering to play some Civ V. I wasn’t really able to until Friday rolled around (I blame school, friends, and Diablo 3 in that order).

The main reason I was so into playing some Civ V was because of several conversations I’d had last Saturday at the 2K Community Party regarding what I was missing from the awesome Brave New World DLC. I was told about the new culture victory, the tourism mechanic, and how Venice only got one city but could buy city states… and I was sold.

Why does playing Venice appeal to me? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s the simplicity of approach. Only one city, but I can have some pseudo cities? That’s not too bad. I get double the trade routes? Sounds good to me!

I purchased the Civ V Complete collection on Steam and immediately started a duel game as Venice and fell in love. The trick I use to get through the game is all about maximizing productivity and not pissing anyone off. Go for producing buildings, get a religion that emphasizes growth, have a few units on hand to protect boundaries and to poke around, horde wonders, and go for a lot of trade. It’s weird to see all this land and these lovely locations I’d expand to, but I just can’t get there. I have to take a particular mental approach in the tune of “it’s okay, that’s not how Venice operates”.

Speaking of trade, I encountered Pocatello of the Shoshone and became fascinated. My only encounters with them had been kind of neutral until I sat down and started a game as them. They’re my second favorite now mainly because of everything they do. If you build a city, they get bonus tiles (normal cities start with 7, the one you have the city in and the 6 immediate surrounding tiles, while I noticed the Shoshone get an extra 7 or so). Further, their scout has the strength of a warrior and can choose the item you get from ancient ruins. I can’t emphasize that enough: THEY CHOOSE THE FREE THING. There’s some wiggle there as you can’t just get free settlers all the time everywhere, but every few ruins you can hit the same bonus. They’re a pleasure to play and their music… incredible.

They certainly added a lot of new civilizations to the game, along with new units, buildings, wonders, some civilization specific tile improvements, I don’t think they added any new technologies (but I could be wrong), and they added several new mechanics to the game. Culture got a once over to allow for Tourism and “great works”, espionage got introduced to the game along with spies (England gets a bonus spy which makes them especially dangerous around the Renaissance period), and faith was introduced along with customizable religions (I really appreciate this part).

I know I’m late to the party (by about a year) but with Beyond Earth just a few months away, I really wanted to get some Civ V mechanisms under my belt.

See, now I want to play another game of Civ.

I’m going to go do that.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. “Ah, Venice.” – Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (he says it 3 times during the movie, on arrival in Venice, coming out of the sewer, and right before having fun with the Fraulein).

P.P.S. I also recently got the original Borderlands game and all its DLC. After fighting with the game for a couple of hours, I finally got it working. Had to install some PhysX stuff that wasn’t provided with the game. Irritating as all hell. It certainly feels older than Borderlands 2.

PAX East 2014 – Rundown

I just returned this afternoon from PAX East 2014 in Boston and wow, what a weekend!

On Friday I got in line for the Expo Hall early and, after doing what I think is my annual ritual of buying a shirt from the Rooster Teeth booth, I caught the tail end of Storytime with Alex Rigopulos (CEO of Harmonix). He discussed the upcoming Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved and Chroma games (both look exceptional and I’m interested in seeing how they do). I stuck around for the Rooster Teeth panel and thoroughly enjoyed an upcoming episode of Immersion and the new intro for RWBY.

After Rooster Teeth, I joined a friend for the “Land My Job! Inside Advice on Getting into the Game Industry” panel. Long story short, it doesn’t matter what you do now or did back in the day. If you want in on the games industry, just do what you want to do and things should fall in place (there’s some fine print there but the panel was quite good and explained how people from all walks of life can find themselves in the games industry).

At this point I spent a lot of time on the Expo floor, browsing the things being shown off. The Indie MegaBooth was incredible. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Speaking of indie devs, I ran into one at the Dunkin Donuts on the way in that morning and made sure to drop by every day of the convention at the Indie MiniBooth to see how he was doing. Check out Willy Chyr. His first-person environmental puzzle game, Relativity, has an unmistakable Portal-esque feel to it while using color to emphasize interactivity in an Escher-inspired world. It was an incredible demo and I can’t wait to see the finished product. As an added bonus, I didn’t suffer simulator sickness while I tried it out.

I rounded out the evening checking by attending “The Art of the Table: GMing Beyond the Basics” and  “How Can We Stay Positive in the Games Industry?”. All told a lovely evening.

Saturday started with a bang. Namely the Firaxis Games Mega Panel. I attended last year and I already expected to attend this year even before Jake Solomon mentioned there was a special announcement to be made at the panel. Right after sitting down, someone from 2K came up and asked, “Who’s the biggest Firaxis fan here?” and I said, “I can’t guarantee I’m the biggest fan, but I’m pretty much a big fan.” She pulled me and three other guys from the audience out into the hall for a quick interview performed by Chloe Dykstra and Michele Morrow, the purpose of which was to ascertain if we had a decent idea of what the announcement could possibly be. There’s video somewhere, but right now it’s not online. Suffice to say, one guy guessed Alpha Centauri, another said Civ 6, I said Master of Orion (corporate espionage for the win), and I don’t remember the fourth one. We were then released to get back into the panel where they announced Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth and I’m so excited.

No seriously. SO EXCITED. Text is inadequate for expressing my excitement for this new game. It’s coming out later this year and I promise I’ll be playing. I guess I’m more than just a “big fan” of Firaxis now, huh?

After the panel, we got posters promoting the game. As I stood outside checking my phone, I was grabbed by the same camera crew and interviewed again about my reaction to the announcement. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember being told that I did really well in front of the camera at which point I said it was probably because, “I dabble in YouTube”. Michele Morrow laughed and said she needed that on a t-shirt (someone hook her up with one please?). I then found myself invited to the 2K Community Party later that night.

I hoofed it to the FedEx by the main entrance and wound up walking with one of the developers of Beyond Earth. I was able to express my appreciation for the new title as well as my enthusiasm on the way (I love doing that in person to the people who are actually responsible for what I’m gushing on).

I caught the tail end of the Mass Effect Cosplay Initiative (Thane’s voice actor is a witty fellow), and then I wandered the Expo Hall some more until about 6, at which time I found a nice spot to sit and wound up sitting next to The Doubleclicks (I kept my cool, but only barely). A short while after that, I made my way offsite to the 2K Community Party and had a lovely time talking gaming with some exceptional people from 2K, Firaxis, and Gearbox (as well as fellow PAX attendees).

Sunday started with another roughly equivalent bang to Saturday’s. I attended the Inside Gearbox Software panel and it was packed. So much concentrated awesome resulted in us getting to see some small details on upcoming games such as Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands, the Homeworld Remastered Edition, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Even more than just those things, everyone in the audience (me included) got a voucher code for a free copy of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Yup, I’ll be playing it up one side and down the other.

My buddy and I followed that amazing experience up with attending the signing by Gearbox and friends down in the Queue room. I netted a Borderlands 2 golden key code (already used it, sorry), and a copy of Official XBOX Magazine that won’t be on stands for another two weeks.

I wrapped up my convention attendance by some more wandering of the Expo Hall and attending the “Fragging Gamer Stereotypes” panel.

All in all, quite the amazing weekend. I’m blown away by how wonderful everyone was and now I’m seriously contemplating going again next year.

As an aside, I’m quite tired of writing behind a pen-name or callsign or handle or nom de plume or whatever. I’m going to be signing my posts here with my actual name from here on and you’ll all see my name on my Twitter (but everything else is going to be pretty much the same). It’s time to put a face to the words, proverbially speaking.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. You all really need to see the official trailer for Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth. It’s something truly fantastic.

Heading to PAX East

This week I’m heading off to PAX East in Boston.

There’s a lot less I’m interested in this year than last year. Last year, XCOM was new and turn-based strategy games were the major topic of conversation in several panels. This year, not so much.

As of right now, I’m hoping to sit in on a few panels:


– Noon: Rooster Teeth

– 4:30: Future of PC Gaming


– Either the 10:30 PA Make-a-Strip panel or the 11:30 Firaxis Games Mega Panel and I’m leaning towards the latter

– 1:00: ExtraCredits


– 10:30 Inside Gearbox Software

– 1:30 Live D&D Game

And that’s about it. I’m hoping to spend a bunch of time on the expo floor checking out booths and just generally relaxing and enjoying the convention overall. I don’t expect to be going back next year since it’s so expensive and the sign-up for passes this year sold out so quickly.

I’m hoping to see some Star Citizen at the convention and I know that Chris Roberts is sitting on the Future of PC Gaming panel. I think Awesomenauts will be there again and I’m hoping to swing by to see Lord of the Rings Online and a few other games.

I’m quite excited for the trip, but I’m concerned I won’t be interested enough in the convention this year. In future years I’m looking to go to local conventions instead as a cost cutting measure.

Anyway, I’ve got a lot of Diablo 3 to get to before the convention. I’m hunting for great loot!

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “I’m on the hunt.”  – Montross, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter

A Different View of XCOM

Yesterday I took advantage of a Steam sale to pick up The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and I’ve been playing it quite a bit. That said, I think I’ve almost beat the game and it’s only my second day of playing it.

I’ve noticed a few things about the games construction – mainly, it’s built with obvious inspiration from other games. Aside from the direct connection to the XCOM series and the obvious stuff that comes with that (Sectoid, Muton, Sectopod, Silicoids that don’t look like anything I’m used to, Laser and Plasma weaponry, the Vigilo Confido logo), there’s definite influence from Mass Effect (a squad of three people with different abilities and you can choose the two who go with you, as well as the dialogue wheel), but I’m also seeing a bit of Batman: Arkham Asylum in there (pretty linear storyline with a set progression of things you get to make your job easier) and a touch of Assassin’s Creed (mainly the later games where you can send assassins out to do odd jobs). The third person perspective is also evocative of the Mass Effect/Batman/Assassin’s Creed influence.

I’ve got a few small problems though. The main issue I have is that everyone seems to know what everyone else is talking about. It’s like everyone agreed to call the enemy communication network Mosaic, including the aliens. One of the major bad guys is named Axis. There was an Elerium-115 mine on Earth (which is a surprise to me and probably Doctors Shen and Vahlen in the XCOM Enemy Unknown game). Instead of this being a quiet background invasion, it’s full scale (as far as we in the United States know) and it feels… not rushed. Like, you have the time to walk around the base and talk to people and there’s no real sense of urgency except in the missions and even then I basically take my time. Much like in Mass Effect, every fight is kind of easy to predict since the battefield will be littered with cover objects. Oh, and the dialogues don’t seem to be scripted properly in some places… for example, the person you’re talking to will say one thing and the response just won’t fit right. Maybe that’s just me being weird.

A lot of things were nailed down pretty well. Combat is fairly robust (wish grenades were easier to use), the squad command system is pretty fluid and straightforward, the abilities do exactly what you think and tend to ignore terrain restrictions in a good way  when it really matters (the sniper critical strike goes through terrain but turrets have to be placed properly). The guns feel powerful and the ammo is plentiful.

A note on the weapons: I like the looks of them and stuff, but why do the aliens have laser weapons? XCOM designs them in Enemy Unknown. I shrugged my shoulders while I played, but still. Also, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough difference between weapons, and for that matter, the backpacks you get. Seriously, I got the Guardian Pack that lets you have more ammo and (I think) do more damage and I haven’t looked at any other pack since. They’re too spread out, the ones you find in the field, and they’re not significant enough. Mainly, my issue is, I have a problem with not seeing numbers or quality comparisons between items and it makes it difficult to care about the different pieces of equipment. I know this was released for consoles, but at least you got some ballpark comparisons in Mass Effect 3 when you were equipping a different gun or swapping out an armor component.

Oh, and why don’t we have some body armor? That’d be cool. Maybe medkits for the support soldiers? I’m just spitballing here really.

I remembered the early work they were putting into the game when it was supposed to be during the 1950s and mostly happening in suburbia (shifted to the 1960s in the final product) and I’m seeing all that stuff still there. The black globs are Silicoids, the big dish thing that shoots lasers was actually a boss for a stage, and the stuff leaking out of peoples faces and the like is some sort of alien disease they’ve put in the water supply. Pretty awesome seeing that now after seeing it way back during the initial development.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the game and I’m looking forward to playing the Hangar 6 R&D DLC later. I really hope someone revisits this model for the XCOM franchise, mainly because being able to walk around in my own base ala wandering the Normandy in Mass Effect and talking to people on my team is really freaking cool. All the throwbacks to the TBS XCOM games like calling the helicopter you use the Skyranger and the experimental ship you’ll use to take the fight to the aliens the Avenger. Pretty sweet.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. BTW, the voice actors for some Mass Effect characters are also in The Bureau. Namely, Brandon Keener (Garrus Vakarian) and Courtenay Taylor (Jack). No quote this week because I can’t think of anything super relevant.